We are starting a series of first-person accounts to enrich our Bulgarian photography column “35mm”. Here, native photographers will share their experiences on topics – some close, others more distant for the young generation. Our aim is to preserve these authentic memories without the interviewer’s rude interference. We hope everyone will find something of value in these personal revelations.
We will start with the memories of Garo Keshishian, who turned 75 a few days ago – about censorship and photographic fears during communism. This answer was part of the presentation of his book “From a Standpoint” during “Photovacation 2021”. We recommend buying it while it is still warmly published and available. For those unfamiliar, this is the first Bulgarian book featuring the work of this photographer. In it you will find not only dozens of Garo’s photographs, but also eight conversations led by Krasimir Mashev.
Censorship under Communism
It wasn’t until 1989 that things got a little loose a bit. That’s when the photographs that we had taken before started to come out. This process was not actual only in Bulgaria, but for the whole Eastern bloc. A few colleagues and I were invited to present these photographs at an exhibition in Lausanne. It is a mystery to me how the organizers had gotten information about us. Only photographs and documentaries from Eastern Europe were shown in the exhibition, without the Soviet Union. There were over 3000 photographs alone. You have no idea what shocking footage we witnessed that had not been shown until then. There were photographs from the camps, even taken by the campers themselves – crumpled photographs that would make you cry to look at them.
Air from the East
You really can’t imagine the kind of things we are talking about. I will give another example with photographs from a mine in the GDR. There, in the 20th century, the workers were stark naked with thongs on their feet. It was as if they were slaves! We look at these horrors, these black-and-white photographs, and we say, “My God, what do we know?” We think we’re going to get arrested because we took pictures of frowning militiamen. The truth is that many people have sacrificed their futures to take such powerful photographs so that we can learn something about the times in which we live. When you stand in front of such a wonder you feel terribly small because you haven’t had the opportunity or the courage to photograph such things. It was interesting that the whole exhibition was entitled “Air from the East”.
I would be grateful to anyone who is willing to join the Photoworld Club’s initiative to preserve Bulgarian photographic memory and I look forward to receiving your memories and photos by email: email@example.com
Author Anton Daskalov